Yemen battles hunger, child malnutrition

Millions of Yemenis are being left to starve due to lack of food and water since the change of government which has pushed the country's political turmoil towards a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

Nearly half the country’s population has been afflicted but it is the hundreds of thousands of children who face life-threatening levels of malnutrition and starvation.

At the Al-Sabeen Hospital For Motherhood, Childhood And Gynecology, a mother talks about her son's condition which has stabilized in recent days.
“Almost half a month ago, he was very ill, but now he just has difficulty breathing,” said Sabah Mohamed.

According to the head of the children’s department at the hospital, Dr. Riyadh Mansour, the situation is now reaching its breaking point.

“Now we have an average one or two cases every day of severe malnutrition which we classify as severe malnutrition. Mild malnutrition is highly prevalent in Yemen and does not require hospitalization,” he said.

“A case of severe malnutrition is like the one you just saw, of the one-and-a-half year old who weighs just 4.5 kilograms,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday called for a pause in fighting so that they could gain access to deliver humanitarian aid to the needy.

The ICRC said it was seeking access from all sides, including the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, but had yet to secure it.

In related news, the Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau Of Democracy, Conflict And Humanitarian Assistance, Nancy Lindborg, told a news conference that the biggest concern was Yemeni peoples’ access to healthcare and clean water.

“We must ensure that the children of Yemen -- who right now don’t have the chance they deserve because they are malnourished and because they don't have access to water and to health -- we must ensure that they are part of this transition and that they are part of successful transition of Yemen,” she said.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Atta Al-Manan Bakhit, echoed Lindborg’s concerns, suggesting the current crisis was worse than that in the Horn of Africa.

The hunger issue in Yemen is tied to the political crisis in the country that is currently undergoing a transition to democracy and fighting a war against insurgents in the south. Yemeni political leaders plan to meet prominent secessionists later this month in Cairo to prepare for a national dialogue scheduled for August.

It is hard to tell whether the country’s humanitarian crisis will figure in their discussions.

“Many people do not know that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is more dangerous than that of Somalia in July 2011,” he said.

Gulf Arab states and the West have pledged more than $4 billion in aid to the impoverished state last month, of which $3.25 billion was provided by Saudi Arabia alone.

However, residents in Sana’a’s slums say they doubt they will see any of the money.

“We are seven living in one room; in this place there are seven people. Where can we go with them? Where we will go with our daughters?” said one mother as she prepared a meal to feed seven members.

“We are living, thank God, if we have food we eat, if we don't we have to be patient with ourselves, until God bestows upon us,” she added.

The spokesman in Yemen for UNICEF said the crisis could not be underestimated.

"There are approximately 10 million people in Yemen that lack access to food security. There is also nearly a million Yemeni children suffering from chronic malnutrition which will result in stunted growth and weight loss, as well as approximately 276,000 Yemeni children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition,” he said.

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